A Guide to Ivy League Colleges

By Susannah Gruder · May 03, 2021 · 7 minute read

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A Guide to Ivy League Colleges

Being accepted to an Ivy League college is something some students work toward all their lives—but there’s more to gaining admission to these schools than good grades and a long list of extracurriculars.

With admission rates getting tougher every year (averaging 7.2% in 2020 compared to 13.9% in 2010) there’s a heightened sense of competition among top students in high schools across the country and around the world.

What Are the Different Ivy League Schools?

While Ivy League colleges have much in common, each school has its own unique reputation and characteristics that attract different kinds of students.

Brown University

Located in Providence, Rhode Island, Brown is known for its humanities programs as well as its Warren Alpert Medical School. Its open curriculum allows for a relatively freeform educational model where students are encouraged to take classes they like without having to accumulate certain requirements, and gives students the option of taking as many classes as they want on the basis of pass-fail.

Columbia University

Located in New York City, Columbia is the most diverse Ivy with 70% of undergraduates identifying as students of color, and has the highest percentage of international students at any Ivy League, with 17% of its student body coming from foreign countries. This cosmopolitan college is host to renowned business, journalism, and law schools, and requires students to adhere to its core curriculum, which focuses largely on liberal arts.

Cornell University

Located in Ithaca, New York, Cornell is one of the largest Ivy League universities, occupying a sprawling campus in this scenic upstate town. Known for its agriculture and engineering schools, Cornell also has strong Greek life and a wide range of athletic programs.

Dartmouth College

Located in Hanover, New Hampshire, Dartmouth is the most rural of the Ivies, drawing a student body interested in the outdoors and Greek life—58% of students participate in sororities or fraternities. Its somewhat smaller student body allows for more one-on-one attention in classes and a strong sense of community on campus.

Harvard University

Located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard encourages students to take a wide range of courses through their general education requirements, which allows students to broaden their interests and take advantage of intellectual curiosities. The school has 12 residential houses that seek to foster a sense of community in an otherwise imposing setting.

The University of Pennsylvania

Located in Philadelphia, Penn is known for its four distinct undergraduate colleges, including the Wharton School of Business and the College of Arts and Science. Students have the option of taking part in Greek life, and are also encouraged to explore opportunities in the greater Philadelphia area, from internships to the wide array of cultural events available.

Princeton University

Located in Princeton, New Jersey, Princeton University offers either a liberal arts or engineering and applied science degree for undergraduate students, with both programs including general education requirements. Princeton is known for its international affairs and engineering programs, as well as their storied eating clubs, which serve as coed dining halls and social centers for students, and are comparable to non-residential fraternities or sororities.

Yale University

Located in New Haven, Connecticut, Yale University is known for its creative writing and arts programs, as well as a residential college program and an array of secret societies. It’s also home to a renowned graduate drama program and law school.

Benefits of Attending an Ivy League School

For those who get that coveted acceptance letter, the benefits can be worth the years of hard work it took to get in. From growing your network to gaining access to world-renowned resources and professors at the top of their field, attending an Ivy League school can set students on an accelerated path to intellectual and professional success.

Having an Ivy League school on your resume may open countless doors when it comes to applying for jobs, fellowships, or graduate programs and may provide a leg up when it comes to advancing your career.

The amount of funding available at Ivy League schools may provide a major draw as well. All Ivy League schools have need-blind admissions policies, meaning that admissions officers will not look at a student’s financial need when considering their application, and have a promise to meet 100% of demonstrated financial need determined based on household income.

Brown, Columbia, Harvard, and Princeton take things one step further, packaging aid with no loans for each student. Ivy League schools also have incredible funding opportunities for research and travel for students, allowing them to broaden their interests and perspectives.

The Cost of an Ivy League School and Options for Paying for Tuition

All of the Ivy League schools are private universities, which usually implies a hefty price for tuition. The average undergraduate tuition for an Ivy League school for the 2020-2021 school year was $55,868, plus room and board. But due to these universities’ impressive endowments, ranging from Brown’s $4.7 billion to Harvard’s staggering $41.9 billion, these schools are able to offer generous financial aid packages to prospective students.

While Ivy League schools do not offer merit-based or athletic scholarships, there are generally a wide variety of need-based scholarships awarded to students depending on their household income.

A student’s household income is equal to the combined gross income of all people occupying the household unit who are 15 years of age or older. Among Brown’s class of 2022, for example, 98% of students with household incomes below $60,000 received an average of $71,659 in financial assistance —nearly full rides, including room and board. For families making between $100,000 and $125,000, 97% of students receive need-based aid for an average annual package of $52,374.

In addition to aid offered by Ivy League schools directly, students or their parents may choose private student loans to help ease the burden of paying college tuition.

Students should exhaust all federal student aid options before considering private student loans. But if there is still a gap between federal student aid and the remaining cost of attendance, a private loan may be an option for some students.

GPA Requirements for Ivy League Schools

An impressive grade point average (GPA) is only one aspect of a student’s college application. However, to even be considered for admission to an Ivy League school, students may want to see if their own GPA falls within the average for admitted students. Among the Ivies that release statistics on accepted students’ GPAs, the average weighted GPA is about 4.0, meaning mostly As.

How to Make an Application More Competitive

In addition to a high GPA and impressive SAT and/or ACT scores, prospective students will need to prove themselves in other ways to gain admission to an Ivy League school.

Excelling in advanced courses, like honors and Advanced Placement (AP) classes throughout high school may improve students’ chances of admissions, especially if students show a particular area of interest, like science or humanities.

While in the past, college admissions counselors would advise students to be “well-rounded” candidates, it’s now advisable to develop and demonstrate a passion for a particular subject area, which helps Ivies to build a more overall well-rounded student body.

Students can show their interests beyond academics by taking part in extracurricular activities. By engaging in activities early in high school and growing that interest over time, students show their commitment and enthusiasm for a particular area.

Strong interviews and letters of recommendation can also improve a student’s application, along with a strong personal essay. Ivy League admissions teams look for essays that highlight a student’s best qualities, perhaps expressed through a personal anecdote or description of a unique passion that displays a candidate’s distinctive character.

Hitting the “Submit” Button

Following these tips may help improve a student’s Ivy League application, helping to gain admission to one or more of the most prestigious universities in the world. Of course, there are many schools that have the same academic rigor of an Ivy League, and it’s generally advisable to sprinkle in one or two “safety” schools for good measure.

But once students have decided if they want to apply to an Ivy League school, determined which is the right one for them, applied for financial aid and completed their applications, it’s time to hit submit!

The Takeaway

Considering an Ivy League school’s admission rate, along with its particular academic program and financial aid statistics can help determine which is the right school to apply to.

It can be helpful to have a range of options when it comes to paying for tuition, in case a school’s financial aid package doesn’t cover the full price.

A private student loan from SoFi may be able to assist students and their families in managing the increasing tuition and fees of an Ivy League education, helping to ensure that admitted students can take full advantage of the benefits of these institutions.

Learn how a private student loan from SoFi can help meet college costs.

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